MONTPELIER — Lawmakers heard testimony this week from law enforcement and precious metals dealers on how the state can reduce property crimes driven by the sale of valuables like gold, silver and platinum.
With opiate addiction on the rise, property crimes have followed suit, Rutland Police Capt. Scott Tucker told a study committee on the regulation of precious metals dealers.
In Rutland alone there were 200 burglaries last year, about double the number from a decade or so ago, he said at the hearing Wednesday.
The Legislature has sought to fight back against narcotics addiction and methamphetamine abuse for years. One law passed this year sought to address myriad issues, including prevention, treatment and recovery from addiction.
It also addressed the ancillary burglaries that have been on the rise. Act 75 created the study committee and instructed it to consult law enforcement and precious metals dealers on creating a database of stolen goods, appropriate record-keeping requirements, and whether a licensing system should be created for dealers.
Another bill introduced last session, which has not been addressed, calls for pawnbrokers and precious metals dealers to acquire a license to buy and sell precious metals, retain information about a sale, and hold property for 10 days before it is resold if the seller cannot prove ownership.
Tim Puro, owner of Puro’s Coins & Jewelry in Rutland, told the committee he is in favor of such regulations.
“There’s nothing I hate more than reading about an instance in the paper about something that was stolen,” he said.
Puro said police should also notify precious metals dealers when items are stolen to help reduce the risk that they are resold or melted.
Dealers should be required to pay by check, too, Puro said, to slow down the transactions and provide more of a paper record.
But Greg Hamilton, president of the Vermont Antique Dealers Association, said he opposes banning cash transactions. U.S. currency states that it is legal tender for all public and private debts, he said.
“It just seems to me you’d be stepping on some toes there. We do still live in a free country,” Hamilton said.
The proposed regulations received the support of various law enforcement personnel. Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell noted the epidemic of burglaries and said regulations may help reduce them.
“It’s my understanding that in most of the cases the items that are stolen are jewelry, precious metals, coins, things like that,” he said. “These are items that are … easy to sell and hard to identify.”
He said a database or email list of dealers could be used by law enforcement to update dealers on stolen goods. However, many dealers now are buying and quickly melting down items “that any reasonable person would understand are stolen.”
Bram Kranichfeld, executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs Association, said prosecutors support additional requirements including the holding period and requiring copies of identification for sellers.
“By the time the police are able to catch up with the property, it’s gone and there isn’t enough of a record in place to either identify the property or identify the seller,” he said. “From a case point of view, that is incredibly important evidence.”
Prosecutors see a value in a long holding period for items that are sold to a precious metals dealer, according to Kranichfeld.
“Ten days may not be adequate, but we do understand that more than 10 days could be burdensome for dealers,” he said.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre Town, said the panel will meet again in November to hear additional testimony and decide what, if any, legislation it will propose.
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